Measurements of seasonal rates and annual budgets of organic carbon fluxes in an Antarctic coastal environment at Signy Island, South Orkney Islands, suggest a broader balance between production and decomposition

We report here the first comprehensive seasonal study of benthic microbial activity in an Antarctic coastal environment. Measurements were made from December 1990 to February 1992 of oxygen uptake and sulfate reduction by inshore coastal sediments at Signy Island, South Orkney Islands, Antarctica. From these measurements the rate of benthic mineralization of organic matter was calculated. In addition, both the deposition rate of organic matter to the bottom sediment and the organic carbon content of the bottom sediment were measured during the same period. Organic matter input to the sediment was small under winter ice cover, and the benthic respiratory activity and the organic content of the surface sediment declined during this period as available organic matter was depleted. On an annual basis, about 32% of benthic organic matter mineralization was anoxic, but the proportion of anoxic compared with oxic mineralization increased during the winter as organic matter was increasingly buried by the amphipod infauna. Fresh organic input occurred as the sea ice melted and ice algae biomass sedimented onto the bottom, and input was sustained during the spring after ice breakup by continued primary production in the water column. The benthic respiratory rate and benthic organic matter content correspondingly increased towards the end of winter with the input of this fresh organic matter. The rates of oxygen uptake during the southern summer (80 to 90 mmol of O2 m-2 day-1) were as high as those reported for other sediments at much higher environmental temperatures, and the annual mineralization of organic matter was equally high (12 mol of C m-2 year-1). Seasonal variations of benthic activity in this antarctic coastal sediment were regulated by the input and availability of organic matter and not by seasonal water temperature, which was relatively constant at between -1.8 and 0.5°C. We conclude that despite the low environmental temperature, organic matter degradation broadly balanced organic matter production, although there may be significant interrannual variations in the sources of the organic matter inputs.


Authors: Nedwell, D.B., Walker, T.R., Ellis-Evans, J.C., Clarke, A.

On this site: Andrew Clarke
1 December, 1993
Applied and Environmental Microbiology / 59